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When was modernity in Melanesia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 August 2001

Eric Hirsch
Affiliation:
Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middx UB8 3PH, England
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Abstract

This article uses ethnographic material from the Fuyuge of highland Papua and other Melanesian peoples critically to examine the attribution of modernity to Melanesia. Of related concern to this critical focus is that of periodisation, and the periodisation of modernity in Melanesia. Each ethnographic instance that is drawn upon is situated further in the historical past. The Melanesian past is used in this manner in order to address two questions: is it possible to periodise modernity in the Melanesia context; and, if so, when was modernity in Melanesia? The answers to both these considerations suggest that modernity cannot be likened to mass consumption or the individual, theoretical assumptions prevalent in current depictions of modernity in Melanesia. Rather, modernity is a temporal predicament connected to formations of political (state) power and its agendas of local intervention.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2001 European Association of Social Anthropologists

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Footnotes

Versions of this article have benefited from the very helpful comments and criticism of Allen Abramson, Daniel Miller, Adam Reed, Marilyn Strathern, Karen Sykes and James Weiner. I am also thankful for the useful suggestions provided by the two anonymous readers for Social Anthropology. Any errors in fact or form rest solely with the author. Since completing this article the work of Englund and Leach (2000) has been published. I acknowledge its interest to the inquiry offered here, and the range of distinct issues it raises with regards to the manner in which modernity has been studied by anthropologists.

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